Maybe it happened on a flight, when you got into a deep conversation with the person sitting next to you. Or maybe on vacation, you met a fellow traveler and struck up an instant rapport, getting to know the person better in an hour than people you’ve worked with for years.
It’s an exhilarating experience that almost never occurs at home. It’s known as the “stranger on the train effect,” a phenomenon that occurs when strangers open up about their lives without the usual inhibitions.
It’s a specialty of travel, a nonjudgmental realm where people tend to take each other at face value. Time is limited, and what you say can’t trip you up later, since you’ll never see the person again.
That’s not the way it goes at work, where we tightly guard what we say to whom, because it can come back to haunt you. In the competitive arena of the workplace, discretion is thought to be the better part of valor. There’s little communication on issues that are critical to work and life, from conflicts with colleagues or managers, to stress, to lack of time and resources.
TREADMILL TO NOWHERE
That leaves millions of people without an ear to turn to for advice on issues crucial to success, health, and growth. When challenges aren’t addressed, stress grows, as well as the potential for serious medical problems. More than two dozen studies show the connection between heart disease and job stress. There’s also no progress on professional goals when the default position is the status quo. It’s a treadmill to nowhere you want to go.
There is a place to turn to, though, to tackle work issues as they come up: coaching. Just as it is for tennis or yoga, a coach or teacher for your professional side can dramatically improve performance and skills.
Outside advocates—whether you call them executive coaches or life coaches—can cut through the emotions and entrenched behaviors and provide fresh solutions. The best coaches are extremely effective at cutting stress, managing competing demands and difficult bosses, and improving time management.
I’ve worked with thousands of professionals, from frontline staff to CEO’s, and I can tell you that having a coach on your side can be the difference between burnout and a healthy life, between hours without end and boundaries, between speaking up about workload and being saddled with more than you can do well, between stagnation and growth.
Whether your issues are burnout, overwhelm, prickly colleagues, poor management, or something else, the fact is, everyone could use some guidance, since we are never taught the skills of sustainable working. We get the tools of our trade, but not what we need to work in the most effective way, based on what the science actually says. So the tendency is to default to retaliatory mode, reacting to devices and others, instead of managing them, which drives stress, crisis mentality, and exhaustion.
WHAT IS COACHING, ANYWAY?
So what is coaching, anyway, and what can it do for you? At its most basic, coaching is a process that identifies what’s not working in your work-life and then provides custom adjustments to turn it around. Human nature is averse to change, even change that’s good for us, so it’s difficult to embark on the right path on your own. Coaching provides an advocate dedicated to helping you solve the challenges holding back progress and satisfaction.
A good coaching program should begin with goals and questions. Where do you want to go? What is standing in the way of those goals and progress? What needs to change? What should you be doing less of? What should you be doing differently? What’s making work and life difficult? What kind of work-life balance do I need? Balance means the important things in your life are not being neglected in a single-minded pursuit of the task side of your life.
It’s easy to get so caught up in head-down mode that we wind up well off course from where we want to be. Coaching is an opportunity to pause, question what’s not working, and return armed with better strategies, instead of continuing with the default position that can threaten health or career.
I see coaching as part-conversation and part-seminar, providing listening, instruction, exercises, and a road map to job and life satisfaction. Proven strategies are tailored to the specific circumstances of the work culture and team. There is a wealth of research to point us in the right direction when it comes to working in the most sustainable way.
THE CYCLE OF INSOMNIA
Like many people today, one of my clients was having a serious problem with insomnia, unable to sleep for more than a couple hours at a time. We dug deeper and discovered the source of the stress and panic attacks that triggered the cycle of sleeplessness. She was taught several stress reduction techniques, and how to speak up and communicate better with her manager.
People with severe overload and stress/burnout issues often feel they can’t possibly speak up about it, or they’ll get fired, so the problem gets worse. These people are often the most conscientious and hard-working people on the staff, so the manager is usually more than willing to make adjustments. Often the person is doing well more than the manager expects or even wants.
We’re all raised to take a licking and keep on ticking, but, unlike for watches, that’s a mistake for humans, particularly when it comes to job stress and counterproductive behaviors that are a threat to health. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve spoken to at workshops I’ve conducted who tick off a litany of meds they’re using to treat job stress-related disorders that a good coaching program could resolve.
Others cite heart attacks. I've heard about colleagues who have died from heart attacks on the job. They didn't seek help. Reaching out isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. You are taking back control of your life when you have the knowledge and tools to work in a sustainable way.
Maybe you would just like to be more productive and organized. Coaching can help you there as well. You learn the difference between urgent and important, and reduce a lot of stress in the process.
If you’re not happy with your work-life, if dysfunction, restructurings, workloads, or conflicts are showing up in the form of insomnia, digestion problems, or chronic stress, reach out today for a free consultation. The cost of coaching is a lot less than you think and most people are able to resolve even the most intractable issues in three one-hour sessions via phone or Skype.
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